Saturday, April 1, 2017

Commentary on some aspects of PDOIS Agenda 2016

A week ago, we posted on our Facebook page a short note entitled "Advantage, Halifa" in which we highlighted the strengths of Halifa Sallah, the politician, essentially arguing that his oratorical skills as well as his hard work, among other enviable attributes, make him a formidable political foe.

We also said, in the same piece, and we quote " [H]e uses...key local languages to propagates his ideas, some of which I find unpalatable and run contrary to my liberal democratic and free but regulated market ideas and values..." which drew a particular comment from a reader who demanded to know why some of Halifa's views are unpalatable. to which we promised to share a blog post published in May 2014 showing some areas of divergence.

This post on some aspects of PDOIS's Agenda 2016 is to fulfill that promise.  Happy reading.


The People's Democratic Organization for Democracy and Socialism better known by its acronym PDOIS is first off the starting blocks with what it labels "Agenda 2016: a provisional Manifesto of PDOIS" which was unveiled in Wuli Barrow Kunda in the Upper River.

Since it is labelled "provisional", the manifesto is expected to be put through a process of validation by the PDOIS membership.  How long the comment period will be is unclear.

What strikes us immediately is the scope of the Manifesto, as we have noted on our Facebook page where we suggest that PDOIS is trying hard (maybe too hard) to cover most, if not all, of the bases.  The Manifesto covers everything from the electoral process and reform to the discussion of tactics to be employed to achieving some of the party's goals. 

Agenda 2016 has two stated goals namely to put a definitive end to (i) voter apathy and (ii) sectarian politics. Both goals are laudable in and of themselves but whether the strategy adopted will achieve these goals given that PDOIS has been conducting civic education since it became a registered political party in 1986, especially as it relates to voter apathy.

Civic education addresses one aspect of why voters don't go to the polls, the other aspect of voter apathy in developing countries like the Gambia has to do with how the governed see the governors.  A regime that intimidates by creating a siege environment around voting stations and around town will help drive voter participation rates down, especially in opposition stronghold.

Regarding sectarian politics, the Gambia was, and we hope, still is a model of peaceful coexistence between various ( to borrow PDOIS's own classification) "faiths, casts and ethno-linguistic" groupings.  A quick glance at the state of affairs of sectarian politics in the sub-region will convince any reasonable person, with equally reasonable knowledge of Gambian politics, that Gambian politics is not based on the groupings listed in the Manifesto.

As we are used to saying in these pages, Gambia has numerous other problems but sectarianism isn't one of them, and, thus, to make it a central theme of a political document like Agenda 2016 is only advancing the cause of those who attribute their personal failings on tribe, region, religion or cast.  Every society has its fair share of knucklehead politicians who see utility in exploiting these groupings for their own political ends.

We will not dwell further on this issue except to flag the danger posed by twenty years of ethic politics that Jammeh has insistently played which may cause a destabilizing effect down the road between his minority Jola tribe and the rest.   The fact that all of the key and strategic posts in government are held by members of his tribe has raised eyebrows, even among his own political party, but nothing beyond that.  The worry is what happens post-Jammeh.

Electoral reform, in our view, should have been the centerpiece of the Manifesto and the driving force behind the 2016 Agenda of all political parties. the driving force.  To relegate it to the second-tier of the document conveys the message that voter apathy and sectarian politics are the predominant factors facing the opposition in 2016.

And to suggest that opposition participation in the 2016 presidential elections should still take place even if Jammeh refuses to restore second round voting deals a devastating blow to many in the opposition who support electoral boycott if their basic electoral demands are not met.

It is our view that a strategic error of monumental proportion has been committed by signalling to Jammeh and his APRC that PDOIS is ready to throw in the towel even before the weigh-in.

We have decided limit our comments on the politics of the Manifesto and to leave the economic and other issues out of the discussion, unless the readership would like us to comment more than what we are prepared to say in the following sentences :

We do not support nor do we encourage the promotion of an expansive role of government in the management of  The Gambia's economy. Public enterprises like Gambia Ports Authority (GPA), Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) and similar enterprises are often referred to as "the productive sector" and increasingly seen by PDOIS and confirmed in the Manifesto as the engine of growth of the economy.

Whereas, they may provide much needed revenue when they operate profitably, these enterprises are almost all bankrupt and a drag on the economy.  Government must divest more of its holdings in these public enterprise to private investors.  A comprehensive diagnostic studies of all these institution must be conducted prior to any divestiture program is put in place.

Finally, it is not government's business to operate mineral mines and oil rigs, even if it wanted to because the financial outlay and expertise necessary are prohibitively high. These sectors are the business of private mining and petroleum companies.  Of course, GASPROM and similar State petroleum and natural gas companies are the exception rather than the rule.